[Reader-list] "Beyond Bin Laden" by Fred Halliday

Harsh Kapoor aiindex at mnet.fr
Tue Sep 25 03:54:08 IST 2001

The Hindustan Times
Tuesday, September 25, 2001  

Beyond Bin Laden
Fred Halliday

Events of the past week have underlined both the importance and 
pitfalls that beset discussion of international affairs. All areas of 
political and social life involve controversy and commitment: this is 
as true of debates on the family, the role of the State in the 
economy, education and the causes of crime.

But in no area of public discussion is there as high a dose of 
posturing, misinformation and irrationality as that of international 

There are, in broad terms, two conventional stances that arise in 
regard to international issues - complacency disguised as realism and 
irresponsibility posing as conscience. These poles have been evident 
in regard to the major cases of humanitarian intervention in the 
Nineties (Kuwait, Bosnia, Kosovo) and are present in much of the 
debate on the causes of globalisation and world inequality. They are 
present in very specific form in the question of what can be the 
future political system in Afghanistan.

For hard-headed realism, the international is a domain of power, 
mistrust and recurrence of conflict. This is the way the world, or 
god, or the market make it, and there is not much you can do. The 
most dangerous people are the do-gooders who make a mess of things by 
trying to make the world a better place: foreign aid, human rights, a 
lowering of the security guard, let alone education in global issues, 
are all doomed to failure.

Last week, in a typical realist calumny, one that allows legitimate 
international action only to States, President Bush cast 
responsibility for the terror attacks on, among others, NGOs (he had 
to spell out that this meant 'non-governmental organisations'). More 
ominous are the voices, now pushing a realist agenda, that were 
already under starter's orders on the morning of September 11 and are 
now in full canter: identity cards, immigration controls, National 
Missile Defence.

In the field of cultural speculation, the great winner has been the 
theory, first espoused by Samuel Huntington in 1993, that says we are 
entering an epoch that will be dominated by 'the Clash of 

The alternative view to realism has its own, equally simplistic, 
answers. This assumes that there is a straightforward, benign way of 
resolving the world's problems and that there is one, identifiable 
and single, cause of what is wrong. Two centuries ago, the cause was 
monarchy and absolutism, then branded as the cause of poverty, 
ignorance and war; over the past two centuries, it has been 
capitalism and imperialism; now it is globalisation. More 
specifically, the US is held responsible for the ills of the world - 
global inequality, neglect of human rights, militarism, cultural 

It is not always clear what the 'America' so responsible is - this 
Bush administration, all US administrations, the whole of 'corporate' 
America, Hollywood or, in the implication of September 11, the whole 
of the American people and, indeed, all who choose to work with, or 
visit, or in anyway find themselves in the proximity of such people.

Both of these positions are, perhaps, caricatures, yet the themes 
they encompass are evident, and will be even more evident, in the 
crisis that has engulfed the world. There are, however, some core 
issues where, perhaps, an element of reason about international 
affairs may be sustainable.

First, history: much is made of the antecedents. Some involve the 
Crusades, others jehad, but the image of the Crusades means little to 
those outside the Mediterranean Arab world; jehad is quite an 
inappropriate term for the proper, Koranic, reason that the armies of 
Islam sought to convert those who were conquered to Islam.

As for the Cold War, it has contributed its mite to this crisis and, 
in particular, to the destruction of Afghanistan but in a way that 
should give comfort to few. One can here suggest a 'two dustbins' 
theory' of Cold War legacy: if the Soviet system has left a mass of 
uncontrolled nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, and unresolved 
ethnic problems, the West has bequeathed a bevy of murderous gangs, 
from Unita in Angola to the Mujahideen in Afghanistan.

A second issue that is present is that of culture. It takes two to 
have a 'Clash of Civilisations' and there are those on both sides who 
are using the present conflict to promote it.

Huntington's theory misses what is the most important cause of the 
events of recent days, and which will define the consequences in the 
Muslim world of what is to come, namely the enormous clash within the 
Muslim world between those who want to reform, and secularise, and 
those whose power is threatened, or who want to take power in the 
name of fundamentalism. This has been the basis of the conflicts 
going on these past decades in Pakistan, Iran, Egypt, Turkey and, 
most violently of all, Afghanistan.

Religious fundamentalists in all societies have one goal: it is not 
to convert other people to their beliefs, but to seize power - 
political, social and gendered - within their own societies. Their 
greatest foe is secularism.

The third and, arguably, most important and difficult issue 
underlying the crisis is that of the most effective and just way to 
combine the two instruments of international politics - force and 
diplomacy. Under international law, States are entitled to use force 
in self-defence. An element of retribution is part of any legal 
system, domestic or international. The UN is not some pacifist, 
supranational last resort, but a body which, in its charter and in 
the Security Council resolution 1368 of September 12, has authorised 
military action by States in this case.

At the same time, any use of force, in the immediate future or in the 
longer conflict promised by both sides, has to be matched by 
diplomatic and political initiative. This can cover each of the 
separate issues that make up the greater West Asian crisis underlying 
these events, from Kashmir to Palestine, and on to Kosovo, but it 
must, above all, address the future of Afghanistan itself.

Here, the UN has, since 1993, been on record, and with the support of 
all the permanent members of the Security Council and all the 
neighbouring States, in calling for the setting up of a new 
government. The UN has insisted that this be broadly based, fully 
representative, multi-ethnic and opposed to terrorism. This is a goal 
which the current crisis requires and brings closer to view. It is 
also one which, it is generally agreed, the great majority of Afghans 
would support.

Freud once argued that the aim of psychoanalysis was to reduce 
extreme hysteria to everyday common misery. The function of reasoned 
argument, and an engaged scepticism, in international affairs is to 
do just that.

The writer is Professor of International Relations at the London 
School of Economics and author of 'The World at 2000' Guardian News 

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